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Why We Need to Talk About Youth with Disabilities

Daintowon D. Pay-bayee
Daintowon D. Pay-bayee attends the convening of the African Youth with Disabilities Network from November 28 to December 4, 2011, in Nairobi, Kenya. © Andy Isaacson

Growing up in Liberia, my mother would carry me to school on her back. I became disabled at the age of five and had to crawl until I was nine. In 1992, my dad gave me a stick to help me learn how to walk. I am ever grateful that he did as it motivated me to push myself. However, my parents and I faced many cruel and heartless comments from relatives, friends, neighbors, and our community at large. Some said that because of my disability, I would be useless to society.

Since those days, I have won international awards for my work on behalf of young people with disabilities in Liberia. I lead campaigns and sensitivity trainings to combat discrimination and work with a group called Young Voices International Liberia. I am also the first young person with a disability to hold an executive officer position with the Federation of Liberian Youth. I have also worked with international coalitions on efforts to ensure the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed by the President of Liberia on September 11, 2008. And I earned a degree in business administration in accounting at the University of Liberia.

Disability is not inability. To fight discrimination and change public perceptions, we need to begin talking about youth with disabilities in our homes, our neighborhoods, and on the national and international stage.

Donors, governments, and the media need to give this issue urgent attention. Perceptions of people with disabilities are degrading. We need to encourage the potential in all of our young people.

I will keep working for my dream of living in an inclusive society where I am judged not by my physical limitations but by my potential and my character.

The African Youth with Disabilities Network is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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